Gikomba dawn fire kills 15, scores in hospital

Rescuers at the scene of the fire that burnt houses and businesses at Gikomba market, Nairobi. Over 15 people died. [Elvis Ogina.Standard]
Slumped against a metal post, face between his hands, no one could tell exactly what was going through David's mind.

David, who appeared to be in his 20s, had isolated himself from his family, who were just two steps away, arguing with a group of morticians at the Chiromo mortuary, Nairobi, yesterday.

When he finally woke from his daze, he started pacing up and down a corridor. He was too nervous.

David, who did not give his second name, is among those affected by yesterday's fire at Gikomba Market that snuffed out the lives of 15 people and left 70 injured.

SEE ALSO: Another fire strikes Gikomba

His sister lived near the market, and by 3pm yesterday, the family had not heard from her.

"Some family members have gone to the Kenyatta National Hospital and the rest of us came here," David told The Standard.

Since they heard of the fire, David's family had desperately been calling his sister's phone, but there was no response.

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His story is one of several sad accounts by those affected by the fire, even as the agonising experiences of victims begin to unfurl.

It is believed that at least nine victims were trapped inside a building locked from outside, complicating efforts to save them.

SEE ALSO: Gikomba fires fuel fury over leaders’ broken promises

“The security guard had locked the gate and left the compound. That is why the people who attempted to escape were not able to go anywhere,” said James Mutiso, a witness.

He added: “The police stopped us from rescuing when they came in because some people were looting. Had they allowed us in, maybe we would have saved a life.”

The fire is believed to have started around 2am from timber shops near the river, the strong wind aiding its spread to nearby residential houses.

It was only after the fire ceased and the sun lit the scene that the extent of the damage would be realised. The business area next to the Nairobi River looked like a war zone. Dirt, soil and soot mocking the rescuers, slowly climbing higher and higher up their boots as they fought with the tarred iron sheets in search of victims.

Esther Wanjiku, who was at the scene from 4am, realised her first born daughter was not among those who had been rescued from the building.

“I called her immediately I received information that there was a fire in Gikomba but her phone was off. It has been three hours and there is no sign of Purity here, but I just hope she is safe,” said Wanjiku.

Margaret Purity Wanjiku, an engineering student at Kenya Institute of Highways and Building Technology, was staying at the apartment with her schoolmate. A neighbour confirmed having seen the two girls the previous evening.

“Purity comes home every weekend and leaves on Monday morning. She just moved into the apartment with her friend this month after the school asked them to seek accommodation elsewhere,” said Esther.

Purity was expected to finish her three-year diploma course in Electrical Engineering in September.

Wanjiku narrated how three roommates left one of their friends trapped in the building as they escaped.

“They said an electric pole fell right in front of them, blocking their way as the fire went closer to them. The two jumped but the one who went back into the building in the confusion is yet to be found,” she said.

As Wanjiku and other victims continued the search for their loved ones, traders sat with gloomy faces contemplating an uncertain future.

Kennedy Otieno sat across the river facing the embers still visible on the scene, palm on his chin. The amber could be the piece of wood he had stayed late on Wednesday to finish designing for a client who wanted a five-seater sofa set.

“He gave a down payment of Sh20,000 yesterday. He was to come back with the remaining Sh10,000 next week, as he picks his furniture. But it is all in the ash now,” said Otieno, a father of two.

Inside Otieno’s shop was a power-saw and a plane, tools he had used to start his shop two year ago. All that is now gone.

There was tension at the scene as Regional Commander Kang’ethe Thuku announced that more victims had succumbed to their injuries at KNH.

“So far, 15 people have been confirmed dead after suffering burns and chocking on poisonous fumes. Five died on arrival at KNH, among them four children and a woman,” said Thuku.

Thuku said they had set up a multi-agency committee to investigate the cause of the fire, which razed down 17 structures.

Acting KNH CEO Thomas Mutie said the hospital had received 70 causalities, among them 17 children.

Mutie said 41 patients were admitted, five of them in the Intensive Care Unit with burns above 30 per cent.

At KNH, some relatives arrived as early as dawn wanting to be granted access to see their kin, but had to wait until noon.

Goodwill Emmanuel arrived at the hospital at 5:30am, anxious to see his sister and other family members.

Even though Emmanuel got reports that his sister and brother-in-law were stable, their child was pronounced dead on arrival.

"One of the doctors called me and told me that the baby did not make it to the hospital alive, but my sister and her husband are okay, though they have injuries," Emmanuel said.

He said the parents were still unaware of this and that he was afraid to tell them because he did not know how they would react.

Seated beside him was Betty Kaveke, who left four children in her house in Gikomba that evening as she went to work. Two of the children were hers and the rest her sister’s.

She decided to spend the night where she was because it was late, and she was sure the children were safe.

“They had had their supper by the time I was leaving the house,” Kaveke said. The eldest is 14-years-old, the rest are five, four and two.

By 11am yesterday, only the 14-year-old was confirmed to be alive. "Three children were unconscious and by now I don't know if they are alive. I lost everything in the fire," said a tearful Kaveke.

The patients taken to KNH were 28 male and 42 females. The first patient was received at 3am.

Simon Ithae, the Head of Communications at KNH, said patients were being managed for shock, burns and smoke inhalation.

[Report by Gloria Aradi, Akello Odenyo, Anyango Otieno and Farrel Ogolla]

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